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DOI Secretary Zinke to attend NCAI Mid Year Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C. | U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is confirmed to attend the National Congress of American Indians 2017 Mid Year Conference & Marketplace at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., held from Monday, June 12 to Thursday, June 15, 2017.

“We are looking forward to hosting Secretary Zinke during NCAI Mid Year,” said NCAI President Brian Cladoosby. “This year’s theme ‘Sovereign Infrastructure: Building our Communities through our Values’ is an important conversation we will continue to build upon with the Department of the Interior and the Administration in the years to come.”

“It is a great honor to accept the invitation to speak at NCAI’s Mid Year Conference,” said Zinke. “This will give tribal leaders and I an opportunity to discuss ways to empower the front lines of tribal communities.  I am a supporter of building a stronger government-to-government relationship that will reaffirm tribal sovereignty, self-determination and self-governance in Indian Country.”

As the fifty-second U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Zinke leads more than 70,000 employees who supervise 20 percent of the nation’s lands, including national parks, monuments, wildlife refuges and other public lands. The Department of the Interior (DOI) oversees the responsible development of conventional and renewable energy supplies on public lands and waters; is the largest supplier and manager of water in the 17 Western states; and upholds trust responsibilities to the 567 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes.

Prior to his position as DOI Secretary, Zinke represented the state of Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2014 to 2016, and in the Montana State Senate from 2009 to 2011. Secretary Zinke is a fifth-generation Montanan and former U.S. Navy SEAL Commander, in which he spent 23 years as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer.

Pre-register today for press credentialing using our form here:

On-site press credentialing takes place on Tuesday, June 13, 2017 and Wednesday, June 14, 2017 from 7:30 AM EST – 5:00 PM EST.  Credentialed press will have access to all plenary sessions, as well as those sessions noted for press access on the agenda.

Please note all press are required to wear press badges at all times and are asked to please announce yourself to the moderator of each session you plan on attending.

For additional information, please view NCAI’s 2017 Mid Year Draft Agenda here or contact NCAI Communications Associate Erin Weldon with any questions at


About The National Congress of American Indians:

Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information, visit


Register NOW for “So You Think You’re Exempt?” webinar

Many Native American farmers, ranchers, and food operations within tribal jurisdictions conduct business with the assumption that their activities are protected under the sovereign rights of their tribe. While this may be true for some activities, with food safety compliance it certainly may not be the case. This is an individual farm-by-farm, farm business-by-farm business, ranch-by-ranch determination as there are no “overall exemptions” for Tribal farms, ranches, and food businesses. This session will cover the importance of food safety certification in ALL types of tribal food operations and the potential liability that Native farmers and food businesses face if they choose to ignore FSMA compliance or believe incorrectly they are exempt when they are not. Please join us to review the essential information necessary to protect your family, your products, and your business.

“Our farmers and food producers in Indian Country are not exempt from food safety regulations,” IFAI Director Janie Hipp said. “That decision is based on a deep analysis of what you are growing, where it is marketed, where and who is your end consumer of the food, and other factors.  People may not want to hear it, but if your food makes someone sick, and the food is traced back to you, you may be responsible for a series of required events that you aren’t prepared to do.  Tribal sovereignty may not protect you. All these issues and many more will be discussed at this webinar.”


Register NOW for this critical food safety training.


Thursday, June 15, 2 – 4 pm Central

“So You Think You’re Exempt?”



There are more webinars in this series, please visit our website to register for all remaining webinars. All presentations are free and open to the public. Many of the presentations use Produce Safety Alliance approved materials and serve as an important preparation for attending in-person events.

If you you have any questions, please contact Food Safety Coordinator Sandy Martini at



Martinez wins Indian Ag Youth Alliance essay contest

Martinez wins Indian Ag Youth Alliance essay contest

Mackenize Martinez, a member of the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit class of 2016, was recently awarded first place and a $500 check in the Intertribal Agriculture Council Indian Ag Youth Alliance Essay Contest.

Martinez’s essay addressed the need for intertribal agriculture extension services in Indian Country and described her vision for the future of Native American agriculture.

“I feel that food sovereignty is important in Indian country because it is such a necessity in everyday life,” Martinez said. “All Native American tribes have some sort of ancestral connection to agriculture.”

When Martinez talks about food sovereignty, she’s referring to the right of Native American peoples to create and define their own food systems through environmentally sustainable and culturally relevant methods and processes.

The goal of organizations like the Intertribal Agriculture Council that recognized Martinez’s essay, is to strengthen the food sovereignty of Indian Country by providing extension services and technical assistance to Native American communities and reservations across the United States.

“Many native communities are very rural and isolated,” Martinez said. “For them to be able to feed themselves would drastically help the economy of their communities and essentially improve the quality of life on reservations.”

Martinez understands rural isolation and its connection to agriculture. The high school senior is based out of Zwole, La., with a population of 1,984 according to a 2013 census, where she has been involved in showing livestock and gardening since her early youth.

“I showed my first hen in fourth grade, but I did it on and off, it wasn’t every year, and I showed pigs when I was in the eighth grade,” Martinez said. “My family’s always had our garden … it definitely took everybody to keep it going.”

Throughout her high school years, she said she has been heavily involved with Future Farmer’s of America, competing in extemporaneous speaking, and agronomy and floriculture events.

She also conducts Broiler chicken projects, where she raises 15 to 20 chicks for livestock presentation and meat production. “We’re trying to grow these birds from a six ounce chick to a ten pound bird in seven weeks.”

Martinez is a proud citizen of the Choctaw-Apache Tribe of Ebarb, La., whose headquarters are in Zwole. The tribe was recognized by the state of Louisiana in 1978, and has been working toward federal recognition ever since.

In her essay, Martinez discussed how state recognized tribes could play a greater role in improving agriculture throughout Indian Country.

“I feel that all of Indian Country would benefit from state recognized tribes playing a bigger role in food sovereignty because there are so many successful agricultural producers who aren’t members of federally recognized tribes,” Martinez stated in an email. “State recognized tribes are such a prolific agricultural force on their own and have to be very independent and self sufficient.

“State recognized tribes have so much potential to really advance the movement for food sovereignty in Indian country.”

Martinez’s essay was one of three winning papers in the Indian Ag Youth Alliance essay contest and conference, which brought together 56 Native American youth for a modified version of the IAC’s 30th annual membership meeting in Las Vegas, Dec. 4-8, 2016.

The annual meeting is designed to educate, empower, and strengthen the ever-growing network of Native American farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists working throughout Indian Country.

To enter the essay contest and be accepted to the conference, youth were asked to read the 1987 Final Findings and Recommendations of the National Indian Agricultural Working Group, a report that laid the foundations for establishing the Intertribal Agriculture Council.

Martinez said she was shocked when she found out that her paper was one of the winning essays.

“When I found out I’d actually won the essay contest I was like ‘woah,’ this is cool.“ Martinez said. “And then I actually got to Vegas and saw how big of a deal they made out of it, and how much of an honor it was to actually win it, and that really opened up some more doors too, so it was a really great experience.”

After giving her speech, Martinez was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Arkansas. She said after considering her options, the young agriculturalist has decided to attend McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., where she’ll pursue a major in agricultural business.

“I’d really like to study it and relate it to how it affects my own community,” Martinez said. “And learning some management skills is something everyone needs.

“I think when you talk about agriculture and its importance, you have to know that it affects everybody everyday, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.”

Hipp receives public advocate award from NCAIED

Hipp receives public advocate award from NCAIED

The Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative Director Janie Simms Hipp received the 2017 Tim Wapato Public Advocate of the Year Award at the annual National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development conference.

The award was presented on March 14 at the 31st National Reservation Summit American Indian Enterprise Luncheon held at the Mirage in Las Vegas.

She was selected for the award based on her leadership and exemplary commitment to advancing economic progress in the American Indian business community.


Yazzie receives grant to conduct food outreach in Native American communities

Azelya Yazzie, a member of the Native Youth in Food and Agriculture Leadership Summit class of 2016, was recently awarded a $1,000 Pollination Project grant to conduct educational outreach in Native American communities in her home region of Southern California.

Yazzie has been involved with numerous service and leadership efforts in the past year, and was an Earth Team volunteer for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The grant is the most recent of Yazzie’s outreach efforts aimed at revitalizing traditional food-ways and improving the health of Native American communities.

She describes the grant award and her other service efforts as the result of the simple philosophy she’s adopted: the philosophy of “yes.”

“My best piece of advice to youth interested in pursuing their passions or growing as leaders is to just say ‘yes’,” Yazzie said. “You never know what one opportunity will lead to just because you weren’t afraid of taking the chance and you said ‘yes’. It’s amazing how many people you will meet that want to help you, by just taking the first step.”

Azelya Yazzie speaking at the 2016 National Resource Conservation and Development Councils Convention on Native youth in food and agriculture initiatives.

Yazzie learned the value of her philosophy first hand in December 2015 when she took her own first step by attending the Intertribal Agriculture Council’s Indian Agriculture Youth Alliance in Las Vegas. Yazzie said the meeting seemed like an excellent venue to learn about connections between two subjects she’d long been interested in: growing food and exploring her indigenous ancestry.

“It was the first agriculture opportunity I stumbled upon that was for Native Youth,” she said.

The IAC’s annual three-day meeting is designed to educate, empower and create connections among the ever-growing network of Native American farmers, ranchers and agriculturalists working throughout Indian Country.

Alliance youth participate in a modified version of the conference, providing multiple activities and opportunities for the younger members to network and learn from the organization’s more experienced professionals. One activity involved youth members receiving mentorship on how to fill out a Farm Service Agency Youth Loan application. It was during this activity that Yazzie would say “yes” once again, and meet her current mentor, IAC Technical Assistance Specialist Keir Johnson.


From left, Mark Van Horn, Director of UC Davis Student Farm, Tom Tomich, Director of UC Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute, Azelya Yazzie and Keir Johnson-Reyes. Taken on a tour arranged for Yazzie of the UC Davis Ecological Garden.


A citizen of the Osage Nation, Johnson was hired by the IAC in June 2014 to provide technical assistance to farmers and ranchers in the IAC’s pacific region. Johnson said he was going around checking in on youth from his region in attendance, when by chance, he sat down to talk with Yazzie and her father.

“She was really interested in expanding her experience,” Johnson said. “She seemed very engaged with getting more involved in agriculture and her dad was completely on board, so we exchanged information and began reaching out every one or two weeks.”

Yazzie said Johnson has been the source of numerous opportunities that have come her way in the past year.

Soon after meeting, they formulated the idea for Yazzie to develop a project as an Earth Team volunteer for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). Yazzie said the experience has expanded her understanding of sustainability and helped her grow as a leader.

“Working with the NRCS helped me grow as a leader by allowing me to step out of my comfort zone and gain responsibility, by asking questions to farmers I’ve just met,” Yazzie said. “I would learn about fuel ladders, different bugs that are killing the trees, how to stop erosion … I would also get the opportunity to work with tribal liaisons to help the local tribes conserve their traditional plants used for ceremonies and tools.”

Azelya Yazzie and Keir Johnson on a tour of the UC Davis Baggins End Student Living Community.

When Yazzie graduated high school in May 2016, Johnson gave her a gift pouch of traditional seeds, including some with personal significance, Osage red corn, a variety of Osage corn with vibrant colored kernels of deep red and purple. The variety, once on the brink of extinction, has begun to make a comeback through the work of individual seed savers and concerted efforts by the Osage Nation.

Yazzie ­– now a student at San Diego Community College studying sustainable agriculture – said the seeds Johnson gave her will be used in her future project focused on helping Native American youth learn how to grow and cook their own traditional foods.

In addition to Yazzie’s collegiate studies, her work with NRCS, and her traditional food project, she will be traveling with Johnson and other IAC members to Hawaii in late March to do outreach education on native food systems and youth involvement at local schools, and give a presentation at the state’s FFA convention.

“She continues to push herself to get into new experiences, developing presentations and speaking before new people,” Johnson said. “I’m very impressed by her, because I see her putting herself into these new areas and new avenues, and she’s getting so much out of it.”

Invigorated by her whirlwind of service projects, Yazzie said she’s extremely excited for the opportunity to develop professionally, and gain more experience as a young leader in food and agriculture.

Hipp Receives President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Service

Hipp Receives President’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Service

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Janie Simms Hipp, director of the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative in the University of Arkansas School of Law recently received   the President’s Volunteer Service Award for Lifetime Achievement. The award, from the Corporation for National and Community Service, recognized her lifelong dedication to serving the Chickasaw Nation and advancing the nutritional and educational needs of indigenous people across the continent.

Janie Hipp

The Lifetime Achievement Award is the highest honor conferred by the corporation and is reserved for individuals who contribute more than 4,000 hours of service in their lifetime. The prize, awarded and signed by President Barack Obama in the fall of 2016, was presented to Hipp in January by corporation officials.

“Janie has dedicated her life to expanding opportunities for Native Americans around the country,” said Max Finberg, former director of AmeriCorps VISTA. “She has lived a life of service to others and is extremely deserving of the Presidential Lifetime Volunteer Service Award. Inspired by those who have come before her, she continues to invest in the next generation of Native leaders through the Tribal Youth Summit and otherwise. I am grateful for the chance I had to work with her to improve life throughout Indian Country. She is a shining example of a servant leader and someone deserving of this recognition.”

“It’s hard to imagine anyone who has done more to empower the next generation of leaders in tribal agriculture than Janie,” said Stacy Leeds, dean of the School of Law. “Her dedication and tireless commitment to mentoring and developing others is inspiring.”

Hipp has helped expand efforts to increase nutritional access for tribal communities and protect and promote traditional agricultural knowledge. She is an attorney and graduate of the University of Arkansas School of Law master of laws program in Agricultural and Food Law, the nation’s first advanced law degree program in agricultural and food law.

She is the founder of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Tribal Relations in the Office of the Secretary, and she served two terms on the agency’s Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. She also served on two delegations to the United Nations in the areas of women’s issues and Indigenous issues.

About the Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative: The initiative enhances health and wellness in tribal communities by advancing healthy food systems, diversified economic development and cultural food traditions in Indian Country. The initiative empowers tribal governments, farmers, ranchers and food businesses by providing strategic planning and technical assistance; by creating new academic and professional education programs in food systems and agriculture; and by increasing student enrollment in land grant universities in food and agricultural related disciplines.

About University of Arkansas School of Law: The University of Arkansas School of Law prepares students for success through a challenging curriculum taught by nationally recognized faculty, unique service opportunities and a close-knit community that puts students first. With alumni in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, two territories and 20 countries, it has been ranked among the top 10 “Best Values in Legal Education” by the National Jurist magazine for four consecutive years and is among the top 46 public law schools, according to U.S. News and World Report.

About the Corporation for National and Community Service/President’s Volunteer Service Award: In 2003, the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation launched the President’s Volunteer Service Award in 2003 to recognize the importance of volunteers to America’s strength and national identity and to honor the deeply invested volunteers whose service is multiplied through the inspiration they give others. Today, the program continues as an initiative of the Corporation for National and Community Service, managed in partnership with Points of Light, an international nonprofit with the mission to inspire, equip, and mobilize people to take action to change the world.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.


Janie Simms Hipp, director (Chickasaw)

Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative


Bryan Pollard, director of tribal relations (Cherokee)

Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative